“Heirloom” by Jackson Burgess

Jackson Burgess


Finally it’s middle night, the town’s asleep
and I can watch my breath hit the porch
with no fear of friendly small talk from neighbors
introducing themselves for the umpteenth time.
My father sings and strums throughout the day—
lovelorn ballads about winter following spring.
His voice cracks and twangs, he falls deep
into his Valley accent only then, when he thinks
I can’t hear through the door. I truly am
my father’s son, burying old love notes
in our overgrown heirloom tomatoes,
giving the dirt her words, the ink that she watched dry.
This late at night, he’s due to come down
in his underwear, use the bathroom, drink
from the tap, and in that moment we’ll be
the only ones awake in this single-stoplight town.
Goodnight Dad. Goodnight son. From my father, I got
my fingernails, my slouch, my rearview mirror.
From somewhere I’m not sure of I got these lungs
full of confetti and a case of somniloquy
only she could stand. Here in Shenandoah
where no one but family knows my name,
I can watch frost creep over the garden and listen
to my father sleep fitfully upstairs, shaking
the house with every stir. If he talks in his sleep,
I can’t hear him through the door.
One of us will have to die first.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness


Jackson Burgess: “In college, when I started taking writing seriously, I fell in with a crowd of writers, musicians, graffiti artists, dancers, and derelicts, all of whom loved art so hard it would crack your bones, and most of whom suffered from some sort of mental illness (myself included). It was the first time I’d been in such a community, where depression and medication and therapy were discussed so openly, and as someone with bipolar disorder, it taught me to value open dialogue about those painful topics, rather than to box them up and feel alone. I write to bear witness to experiences and feelings, always from a place of anxiety, and always with the goal of dispelling solipsism in some reader who may have felt the same.” (web)

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